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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       |5J
Alexei was aware that without feet life would be much
harder and more complicated for him than for other
people, and he was instinctively drawn to a man who
knew how to live a real life and who, in spite of his
infirmity, attracted people like a magnet. The Commis-
sar now emerged more and more rarely from his state
of semi-oblivion, but when he was quite conscious he was
the same as ever.
One day, late in the evening, when the bustle in the
hospital had died down and the silence that reigned was
disturbed only by the low, barely audible snores, groans
and delirious muttering that came from the wards, the
familiar loud, heavy footsteps were heard in the corridor.
Through the glass panes of the door, Meresyev could look
down the whole length of the dimly-lit corridor, at the
far end of which a nurse sat at a table, endlessly knit-
ting a jumper. At the end of the corridor, the tall figure
of Vasily Vasilyevich appeared, walking slowly with his
hands behind his back. The nurse jumped up but he
waved her aside with a gesture of annoyance. His smock
was unbuttoned, he was bare-headed, and strands of his
thick, grey hair hung over his brow.
"Vasya's coming," Meresyev whispered to the Com-
missar, to whom he was explaining his latest design for
a special type of artificial foot.
Vasily Vasilyevich halted as if he had met some
obstacle, supported himself against the wall, muttered
something, then pushed himself away from the wall and
entered ward forty-two. He stopped in the middle of the
room, rubbing his forehead, as if trying to remember
something. He smelt of spirits of wine.
"Sit down for a minute, Vasily Vasilyevich, and let's
have an evening chat," said the Commissar.
The professor walked over to the bed, dragging his
feet, sat down on the edge so heavily that the springs
groaned, and rubbed his temples. On previous occasions,
when making his rounds, he had stopped at the Commis-
sar's bed to talk briefly about the course of the war. It
was evident that he singled out the Commissar from
among his other patients, so there was nothing strange
about his late evening visit. But Meresyev had a feeling
that these two men had something to talk about not